Can You Survive Infidelity? Is There Hope After Your Spouse has an Affair?
I want to offer you some helpful insights about infidelity in marriage. I developed the below strategy after working with a couple who suffered from infidelity. Here’s an email I received from the husband who was unfaithful:
Trish and I were high school sweethearts and have lived what appeared to her to be a “Cunningham” life for 25 years. I have a successful career, our kids are normal, and Trish made wonderful holiday celebrations for us throughout the years.
But things were not as ideal as they seemed. After the kids were born, Trish turned all her love and attention to them while neglecting me. This left me vulnerable and I had 5 affairs (some real relationships) over the past 15 years.
Long story short, Trish found out one month ago about my recent infidelity, and I confessed to the others. She’s devastated and accuses me of ruining her life and being a fake.
I have severed all my affairs, apologized 100 times, and dramatically changed my ways. I’ve made so many mistakes, but I’ve truly changed and I’m ready to be completely faithful forever. The problem is: Trish wants a divorce.
Trish says she cannot get over my infidelities and the lying. She says she needs to start with a clean slate with someone who has not cheated on her or lied to her.
There’s so much more, but my question (really my wife’s question) is this: Why should she try to renew our marriage and deal with all this pain rather than starting again with someone new who hasn’t been unfaithful?
Thanks for your thoughts.
How Can A Couple Survive Infidelity In Marriage?
Basically, Trish is asking why she should even try to restore her marriage rather than start fresh with someone new.
I can understand her point of view. Right now in her marriage there’s so much pain, baggage, and a mountain of hurt to heal.
Is it possible to come back from such an ordeal? Can a marriage heal from a string of infidelities?
Doesn’t it make sense to just start over with someone else who hasn’t been unfaithful?
The trauma of discovering that your husband of 25 years and high school sweetheart has been unfaithful and living a lie (even a double life) is no small matter. We’re dealing here with more than just infidelity in marriage. We’re dealing with a woman who woke up 25 years later to the cold fact that her life as she knew it was not really as she knew it. This can cause not only the usual pain of being violated by an unfaithful husband, but an identity crisis too.
I think it’s hard to identify with the suffering that Trish is going through. Although I’m going to offer some “reasons” why she should try to make her marriage work, I don’t want to appear to be insensitive to Trish’s situation or the pain of someone suffering from infidelities. If Trish can’t handle her station in life and can only cope by starting with someone new, I would not fault her.
My job is easy compared to Trish’s challenge. My job is to understand the circumstances, the infidelities in the marriage, and ARTICULATE a path to renewal. Trish’s challenge is to walk that path. I’d prefer my job any day of the week.
Is It Wise To Forgive An Affair?
Having said that, I think there are good reasons for Trish to consider investing in her current relationship rather than simply starting a new one.
The first thing that grabbed my attention in Frank’s email was that Trish learned about Frank’s marital infidelities only one month ago.
The chances are good that Trish is still in shock. She may not know it. She may think she’s thinking clearly. But there’s simply no way that a woman who wakes up to the reality of this situation only one month ago could be in a healthy state of mind to make a decision to break up her family.
Let me put it this way: If Trish were my daughter, I would advise her NOT to make any decision about her marriage now. That’s the best decision sometimes…the decision NOT to decide.
Trish should take some time to process what’s happened in her marriage, let it sink in, think, talk with her husband, discuss the situation with professionals, and allow the shock of the circumstances to pass.
She should allow herself to reach a state a mind that’s reliable for sound decision making. In situations like these that include marital infidelity that takes time. And there are no short cuts. It just takes time.
There’s no rush to make a decision to divorce. Trish can always decide to divorce. She never loses that right. She always has that option. But once she pulls that trigger, there’s no going back. Once it’s over, it’s over.
I can hear Trish saying, “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. What’s the purpose of waiting? My feelings will never change.”
I have no doubt that Trish FEELS 100% sure. I believe she has clarity in her heart. But this is not a time for confidence. It’s a time for humility.
Trish is at a time in her marriage when she should consider professional opinions and other people’s experiences. It’s normal for a person’s mind to snap into clarity in the midst of chaos and infidelity. It’s a defense mechanism. Sometimes it’s the only way for a person to cope with the affairs. But months later it’s not unusual for that clarity to turn to confusion. Then what? What if Trish already filed for divorce, threw her husband out, and announced her plans to family and friends? Now Trish and Frank will have another problem and that is: Even if Trish wanted to try to reconcile, how could she save face?
If Your Partner Has Changed, Perhaps Your Marriage Can Survive Infidelity
I’m not saying that divorcing is the wrong decision for Trish. And I’m not saying that it’s a slam dunk for her to restore her marriage and recover from the infidelities. Maybe divorcing is the right decision. Maybe her marriage is irreparable. I don’t know. But that’s my point. At this stage of the relationship, no one could possibly know…including Trish. Everything is just too raw. To make a decision to break-up her family at this point is impulsive and borders on irresponsible (there are children involved).
Furthermore, Trish believes that she’ll be safer in a relationship with someone who has not cheated on her and lied to her. I understand her FEELING. However, I suggest that the OPPOSITE is true.
Based on his email, it appears that Frank has really changed. I believe he’s a new man. And I’ve often seen people transform themselves after getting the “I want a divorce” wake up call. Unless Frank is a pathological liar or a sex addict, he’s LESS LIKELY to make the same mistake again compared to someone whose track record is clean.
According to a 1998 survey by researchers at the University of Chicago, about 25 percent of married men and 17 percent of married women in the United States ADMIT to having been unfaithful. The noted author Shirley Glass’ research suggests it is probably closer to 25 percent of women and 40 to 50 percent of men! That means, according to author and researcher Shirley Glass, that starting from scratch gives Trish a 50% chance of finding another husband who will remain faithful.
Now I ask you, at this point in his life, given all he’s been through and learned, what are the chances that Frank will screw up again? If Trish gave him another chance, what’s the likelihood that Frank will make the same mistake that almost caused him to lose his family years before? In my opinion, it’s dramatically less than 50%. In fact, I think it’s slim to none.
If Trish were to leave Frank, I think Las Vegas would give her LOWER odds that this sort of thing would never happen to her again.
Here lies an unfortunate irony. People wait years and years for their spouse to wake up and make some changes. Then when they finally do it, they’re told it’s too late.
I understand why someone would feel, after being cheated on, for example, that “it’s too late.” But the fact of the matter is that they’re about to walk away from a person who is FINALLY prepared to be a wonderful loving and faithful spouse. In my experience, it’s these people, people who have made grave mistakes, who have had the harshest wake up calls because of their marital infidelities, who become the BEST spouses and are capable, more than anyone else, of forging the MOST fulfilling marriage and being completely faithful.
Do you see the irony here?
It’s the mistakes that ruin relationships that transform the sinners into people capable of the most outstanding relationships. The unfortunate thing for the victim is that they don’t know how to heal from the hurt that would enable them to reap the benefit of their ordeal.
So the roles become reversed. The person who was ruining the relationship stands ready to transform it; while the person who wanted to work on the relationship all along becomes the cog in the wheel that inhibits true love and a renewed marriage.
In other words, Trish has a choice. If she lets Frank go, he’ll most likely fall in love with another woman and treat her like a queen. There will be no infidelity in their marriage. He’ll be the husband to his new wife that Trish always wanted him to be to her. I’ve seen it happen too often. Some lucky woman owes a poor victim a debt of gratitude. But Trish has another option. She could forgive Frank and become that lucky woman!